Egyptian liberals outraged by lawyer’s blasphemy indictment

A outstanding Egyptian lawyer and Islamic thinker has been sentenced to 5 years in jail with onerous labor on prices of “contempt of religion” and “stirring up sectarian strife.”  

The Nov. 17 court docket determination to imprison Ahmed Abdo Maher over “anti-Islamic” feedback posted on his social media accounts and views expressed throughout an Aug. 26 TV interview sparked controversy on social media, prompting calls by Egypt’s liberals for the abolishment of the nation’s blasphemy legal guidelines. In the interview broadcast on El Mayadeen TV, Maher had described the Islamic nation as “static” and with out innovation and mentioned that enlightenment requires braveness. 

The ruling by the Nozha Misdemeanor Court (an emergency state safety court docket) towards Maher got here after lawyer Samir Sabri filed an pressing authorized grievance with the Supreme State Security and the Public Prosecutor towards Maher, accusing him of “defaming Islam.”  

Sabri, infamous for submitting lawsuits towards spiritual figures and celebrities, accused Maher of “waging war on Islam” and “inciting Muslims to question their religion.” According to Sabri’s grievance, Maher had referred to as for “altering the principles of Islam” and urged Al Azhar to apologize for the Islamic raids of the previous.

“Maher further attacked Islam by stating that there is no torture for the dead in their graves nor were the (Islamic) holy wars aimed at spreading Islam; rather, those were waged with the aim of enslaving women as Islam was not spread through those conquests,” learn the grievance. 

The plaintiff said that Maher had attacked Islam by disputing the timing of the annual fasting month of Ramadan. Days earlier than the beginning of Ramadan, Maher had printed a tweet claiming that what the Muslim devoted will observe in a couple of days “is in fact not Ramadan but a month that Islamic scholars had agreed on designating as the fasting month.”

Maher’s feedback drew a backlash from conservatives, with some calling him “an apostate” and others welcoming his prosecution as “well-deserved.”

Liberals, in the meantime, defended him and insisted that his prosecution was “a disgrace” and “an assault on freedom of thought and expression.” Some additionally referred to as for the abolishment of Egypt’s blasphemy legislation, which they mentioned is getting used as a software of oppression and persecution towards those that oppose mainstream Islamic beliefs. Others, like poet and author Fatima Naoot, referred to as on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to grant Maher a presidential pardon.   

The contentious article penalizing “defamation of religions” with jail sentences of between six months and 5 years was added to the Penal Code in 1981 following lethal sectarian clashes within the Cairo suburb of Al Zawya El Hamra. At the time, some radical Muslim preachers had used their mosque sermons to insult and incite hatred towards Coptic Christians and Shiites.

Ironically, the article — which prohibits “making use of religion in propagating (either by words or in writing or in any other way) extremist ideas for the purpose of inciting (sectarian) strife, ridiculing, or insulting a heavenly religion or a sect following it, or damaging national unity” — has since more and more focused the very group it was meant to guard: Coptic Christians.

Around half of the 21 blasphemy circumstances within the courts in 2015 focused Coptic Christians, researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Ishaq Ibrahim has informed The Associated Press.   

But liberal thinkers even have borne the brunt of these prosecutions. In 2015, outstanding TV discuss present host Islam El Beheiry was sentenced to 1 yr in jail on blasphemy prices for calling for passages he mentioned supported terrorism to be faraway from books of Islamic spiritual interpretation and for questioning the credibility of among the sources of Hadith (Prophet Muhammad’s sayings).

In 2016, author Naoot was sentenced to 3 years in jail and fined 20,000 Egyptian kilos on the cost of contempt of faith over a Facebook submit describing the spiritual custom of slaughtering sheep throughout Eid al-Adha as “the greatest massacre committed by human beings.”

Ironically, Al Azhar, the very establishment that Sisi referred to as upon in June 2016 to guide the reform of Islamic pondering, backs the anti-blasphemy legislation. Unlike Al Azhar students, who agree {that a} zero-tolerance coverage must be adopted vis a vis those who “defame Islam” or dispute its elementary ideas, Amna Nosseir, a former member of parliament and professor of Islamic thought and philosophy at Al Azhar, opposes the legislation and has referred to as for scrapping the article on contempt of faith, which she describes as “ambiguous” and “elastic.”  

“By stifling freedom of expression, the article contradicts our progressive constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of speech and freedom of thought,” she informed Al-Monitor. “Besides, how do we determine what is or isn’t an insult to Islam?”  

As a member of parliament in 2016, Nosseir staunchly advocated for the removing of the article, arguing that “it hurts Islam.” Her efforts failed within the face of sturdy opposition from some ultra-conservatives in parliament and as a substitute earned her the nickname “Amna Nosseir the Crucifix” amongst Salafists who reject spiritual innovation and cling to a puritanical type of Islam.  

“You can only confront an argument with a counter-argument and an idea or thought with an alternative idea or thought; this is the true spirit of Islam,” Nosseir argued. She cited a verse from the Quran addressing Prophet Muhammad, which states that his mission is just to ship the message, and one other verse stating that “people cannot be forced into belief.”   

Free speech advocates additionally condemned the sentencing of Maher. “This is unfortunately not an isolated case; we have seen many being prosecuted for what they believe or say under draconian laws that punish those who challenge religious or social establishments,” mentioned Amr Magdi, a Human Rights Watch researcher.

“If Sisi were sincere about reforming religion as he said, he should start by dismantling that arsenal of abusive laws that restrict freedom of belief and freedom of expression,” Magdi informed Al-Monitor.

Maher stays free pending approval of his sentence by Sisi. Whether Sisi offers the inexperienced mild for the implementation of the court docket ruling towards him stays to be seen, however what is for certain is that Maher’s indictment is an actual check of Sisi’s willingness to hold by means of on his earlier promise of “a spiritual revolution.”  

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